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SPJ joins amicus brief in California public records case


May 6, 2016

Paul Fletcher, SPJ National President, 804-873-1893,
Maggie LaMar, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785,

INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists has joined 12 other media organizations in an amicus brief in a California public records case.

The case, American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California v. Superior Court, involves data collected by Automated License Plate Reader (“ALPR”) systems. Law enforcement authorities in Los Angeles use ALPR systems to automatically scan license plates of all nearby cars and cross-reference them against a “hot list” of license plates that correspond to stolen vehicles.

A California appeals court concluded that ALPR data should not be disclosed under the California Public Records Act based on the statutory exemption for law enforcement investigatory records. That decision is currently on appeal before the California Supreme Court.

“This could have significant ramifications for the ability of the press and the public to access information about how state and local law enforcement agencies conduct the people’s business – a fundamental and necessary right,” said SPJ National President Paul Fletcher. “The government needs to remain accountable to the public.”

SPJ joined the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and others in support of the petitioners in this case. The brief argues that ALPR records do not qualify as “investigatory” because they are not gathered for use in connection with any specific criminal investigation.

“SPJ fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press,” Fletcher said. “Journalists rely on public records requests to do their job and to keep the public informed. Any ruling that expands the exemption for ‘investigatory’ records would hamper the ability of the press to obtain newsworthy information.”

The First Amendment guarantees the press and the public a right of access to criminal trials, including pretrial proceedings, and documents submitted in connection with them. In its role as a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

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